Saudi Arabia is hailing its first official meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump as a "historical turning point," after Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with the former reality TV star and businessman turned president for lunch on Tuesday.
"This meeting is considered a historical turning point in relations between both countries ... which had passed through a period of divergence of views on many issues," a senior adviser to Prince Mohammed said, according to Reuters.
He said the meeting "restored issues to their right path" and signal a "change in relations" between Riyadh and Washington D.C. when it comes to "political, military, security and economics issues."
Under the former administration of President Barack Obama, tensions arose between the U.S. and the kingdom over the Iran Nuclear Deal, the U.S. response to Syria and other regional issues. At the same time, Obama's administration oversaw the largest-ever arms sales to the kingdom, agreeing to sell more than $115 billion in weapons, other military equipment and training.
Trump will have a 'different' approach than Obama
During the lunch, which Trump found time for when a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit was delayed by snow, the deputy crown prince and the president discussed issues ranging from the war in Yemen, instituting safe-zones in Syria, tensions with Iran and mutual economic interests.
Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics, told Arab News that that Trump's approach is "different" from that of Obama.
"It is more aggressive and rooted in transactional foreign policy," he said. Karasik described Trump's style of leadership as that of an aggressive businessman, "pushing and pulling at the stakeholders to come to some type of solution."
There will be "higher risk but greater payoff," he said.
Andrew Bowen, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said that this was an opportunity to "reset" relations between Riyadh and Washington.
Still Bowen cautioned against too much optimism. He said a deal could definitely be worked out with Trump, but the kingdom still won't get everything it wants..
"Will the relationship fall below their expectations? Probably,” he said.
Trump's position on Saudi Arabia is a bit confusing
Saudi Arabia has expressed enthusiasm for Donald Trump since his election, despite his extremely anti-Muslim rhetoric. During his campaign, Trump repeatedly called for a full and complete shutdown of allowing Muslims to enter the U.S.
Since taking office, Trump put forward a travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, excluding Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries. The initial executive order was blocked by the courts, but Trump has issued a slightly revised version set to take effect on Thursday, although legal challenges are currently underway.
At the same time, Trump has spoken very positively about Saudi Arabia in the past.
"[Saudis] buy apartments from me," Trump said during a campaign rally in 2015. "They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much," he said.
But Trump has also repeatedly said the U.S. must remove itself from dependency on Saudi oil. He has even called for blocking imports of Saudi oil altogether. Furthermore, Trump supported the congressional decision that allowed family members of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. to sue Saudi Arabia.
Needless to say, Trump's position on the kingdom, as our most of his positions, is a bit confusing to follow.
Saudi leaders are optimistic about a new U.S. leader
Nonetheless, Saudi leaders have voiced excitement to work with the new American commander-in-chief.
A former Saudi diplomat told The Washington Post in November that most members of the royal family "are happy with the result," saying Saudis "are closer to Republicans psychologically."
The kingdom's Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir echoed these sentiments in January saying, "our interests align."
"The objectives we want to achieve are the same," he said.
Jubeir explained that Saudi Arabia and Donald Trump's administration may have some disagreements "on how to get there," but they don't disagree on "what needs to be done."
One thing is for sure, for more than 80 years, through numerous administrations and monarchs, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have maintained strong ties. There have been ups and downs, but in the end, the relationship remains.